By Othello B. Garblah
With less than three weeks to President-elect Joseph N. Boakai’s inauguration, the outgoing Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the incoming Unity Party administration are gearing up for another battle-this time, the speakership.
Both parties have put forward Deputy Speaker Cllr. Fonati Koffa (CDC) of District #2 Grand Kru County and Representative Richard Nagbe Koon (UP) of Montserrado District #11.
Both men have emerged as the leading candidates ahead of the Speakership race for Liberia’s 55th Legislature after the electoral dispute involving incumbent Speaker Bhofal Chambers suffered a setback before the Board of Commissioners at the National Elections Commission just days before the festive season.
Weeks before the NEC Board of Commissioners ruling, the outgoing CDC had already abandoned their man -Speaker Chambers leaving him to fight off his own legal battles, while coronating his Deputy, Cllr. Koffa as the party’s choice for the speakership to the disappointment of outgoing Speaker Chambers.
The emergence of Rep. Koon has been enough to narrow the race to two horses, pitching the CDC against the UP exactly two months after the November 14 Presidential runoff that saw the latter wrestling power from the former.
-Both Koffa and Koon come with their respective qualifications and experiences from various professional backgrounds, but not devoid of skeletons in their closets though.
Cllr. Koffa, is a seasoned lawyer with both local and international experiences, while Rep. Koon is a seasoned financial expert.
Cllr. Fonati Koffa:
Cllr. Kofa is currently the Deputy Speaker of the 54th Legislature, a second-term lawmaker from the outgoing ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) party. A seasoned lawyer and founding partner of the International Law Group (ILG).
Cllr. Koffa was a founding member of the now-fragmented Liberty Party. He rose to political prominence during the last days of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s regime when he served as chief prosecutor in the Sable Mining case.
Koffa would soon abandon the Liberty Party in 2017 to first contest as an independent candidate in his native Grand Kru County before later officially joining the CDC.
Koffa would later become a deputy speaker with strong backing from incumbent President George Weah, as he focused his left eye on the Speakership. He enjoyed a close relationship with outgoing President Weah.
A man with many suites, Koffa has a checkered past, one that is believed, he has lived to regret after being refined.
Cllr. Koffa comes to the race with a huge support from the outgoing CDC which currently has about 27 or so representatives in the Lower House. A candidate only needs 40 of the 73 members’ votes to win the speakership.
With Bhofal Chambers seemingly out of the way, and CDC’s intent on retaining the third highest seat in the land, they would need at least 13 independent lawmakers to join them.
Deputy Speaker Koffa has boasted of having the numbers to get him over the line for the Speakership. About 40 lawmakers are said to have signed a Memorandum of Understanding pledging their support to his candidacy.
But this is Liberia, where integrity in politics has often been seen flying through the windows. Thus, it remains to be seen if these pledges will actually translate into votes.
However, Unity Party’s quest for the Senate Pro-Tempore position, a fight the CDC is willing to easily let go could be an added advantage for Cllr. Kofa’s speaker’s dream. Although, it is not cast in stone because recent history has shown that the ruling party can control both houses- UP and CDC are good examples.
Representative Richard Nagbe Koon
Rep. Koon is currently representing the people of District #11 in Montserrado County in the 54th Legislature. Like his competitor, he is a second-term lawmaker from the incoming ruling Unity Party. A seasoned financial expert, Rep. Koon is a Lecturer at the University of Liberia MBA Program, he also teaches Accounting at the Undergraduate level.
Besides lecturing at various levels at the University of Liberia, Rep. Koon is an auditor. He audits clients accounting records, conducts bank reconciliation, prepares budgets, etc.
Koon has been a long-standing member of the incoming ruling Unity Party, winning Montserrado District #1 for the UP in 2017.
Rep. Koon has vowed to cut the speaker’s budget which currently stands at US$2.5 million per annum, saying that the money is too much for an office considering the competing national priorities.
Koon comes to the speakership race with huge support from incoming President Boakai. But with his party’s minority number in the house, he would heavily rely on the commitments of the current opposition bloc and some independent lawmakers to see him through the finish line.
However, his chances remain bleak with the CDC willing to direct all its energies on the House Speakership race and cave in for UP to take the Senate, Koon finds himself at the mercy of his colleagues.
Unless the UP digs deeper and works overtime to change the variables in Koon’s favor, the CDC is set to take the House. This would mean a tough negotiation for Boakai’s regime to get some of its legislative agendas over. To be continued.